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Facts On Underage Drinking And Influence Of Parental Example

Students communicate regularly, parents must too—it takes a village

At Manhasset CASA’s recent town hall meeting, parents gathered to discuss the issue of underage drinking in our community. Parents shared personal stories, frustrations and feelings of helplessness. Now as a parent, I realize more than ever the power of comradery. As a fellow struggler on the road of faith and life, I understand the deep need for solidarity and friendship. As a minister working with young people, I realize the need for caring and committed adults to stand up for our young people. We need loving adults to offer friendship and a listening ear. We need caring mentors to give hope and encouragement - to lift our young people to higher ways of thinking, that they might experience an abundant and fulfilled life. We cannot do it alone. It truly takes a village – and this is my challenge to all of us. My article and research on the subject follows.

“It’s Monday morning, and tales about the weekend start trickling in. Did you hear about the Sweet 16 [party]? Three kids passed out, one girl turned up unconscious, and the police came and hauled everyone in. [Pause] Isn’t it awful? Next Monday; different characters, same outcome.” In her article entitled “Why Adults Ignore Underage Drinking and Other Stories,” Linda Flanagan, Huffington Post contributor, calls to mind the all too familiar conversations lingering through the hallways of our high schools today.

The article goes on to report that, “Parents who permit or ignore underage drinking are reluctant to talk about it openly… But off the record, some common explanations emerge. …Parents believe that kids will drink regardless of the rules, and that allowing it to happen at home is safer than sending them out to drink elsewhere. If drunk driving can be prevented, they reason, the big risk is gone. As well, parents understand that demanding abstinence from a son or daughter will condemn that child to social exile. And anyway, underage drinking is not that big a deal, they believe, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand or lead to drugs. Look, we did it and we’re OK. Finally, being the bad guy all the time – the one saying ‘no’ again, the one having to feign indifference when your son screams, ‘I hate you!’ The one who is immediately told ‘No, Mom, we’re not drinking’ – gets old. And we’re all so tired, fantasizing already about that chilled bottle of [wine] waiting for us in the refrigerator.”

One of the most rewarding parts of my job as associate minister is working with teenagers. We discuss issues relating to pop culture, religion and everything else imaginable in between. Our teens inspire me at times and other times I lie awake at night worrying about their young lives and the complicated teenage struggles and pressures they face. I worry if they are feeling validated. I worry if they are finding fulfillment or continually searching. I worry if they will make choices that will chip away parts of their soul and if they will find their inner strength to stand up for what is right and good and true.

The American Medical Association reports that “25 percent of all teenagers, and 33 percent of teenage girls get alcohol from their parents, while 40 percent of teens say they get their [alcohol] from friends’ parents. The number bears this out: according to the AMA, about one – fifth of 12 to 20 – year - olds are binge drinkers and most kids take their first drink at age 12.” The Manhasset Coalition Against Substance Abuse (CASA) 2011 Bach Harrison Prevention Needs Assessment Students Survey reports our children are also binge drinking (five or more alcoholic drinks in a row in two hours), drinking and driving and riding with a drinking driver. Of those students who report underage drinking in 10th and 12th grade, more than 72 percent report drinking alcohol at their home or someone else’s home without any parent permission.

Since 2001, CASA has advocated to parents and the community of the importance of delaying our teens’ age of onset to underage drinking because young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who abstain until age 21. John Moriarty, marketing director of Sunrise Detox in Stirling, N.J, states, “Parents think drinking [verses drugs] is the lesser of the two evils. Nothing could be further from the truth. A boatload of studies and articles spell out the dangers of even moderate drinking among teenagers. Alcohol damages young brains. The AMA study discovered that 14 - to 21 – year - olds who abused alcohol had ‘about 10 percent smaller hippocampi’ – where the brain learns and remembers – and that the harm may be irreversible. Alcohol use is inseparable from the leading causes of teenage death, starting with car accidents and moving right down to suicides, homicides and overdoses, with or without additional substances. Of those kids drinking before they’re 15, 40 percent show signs of alcoholism as adults. Alcohol use goes hand – in – hand with other nightmarish behaviors: rape, delinquency and the use of “real” drugs, including a new favorite in New Jersey – synthetic pot known as K2, which is associated with seizures, blackouts, cardiac infarction and psychosis.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that, “parents influence whether and when adolescents begin drinking as well as how their children drink. Family policies about drinking in the home and the way parents themselves drink are important.” As parents, we need to set boundaries for our children especially when it comes to alcohol.

Studies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services find that the following tips are crucial. “Talk early and often, in developmentally appropriate ways, with children and teens about your concerns and their’s regarding alcohol. Adolescents who know their parents’ opinions about youth drinking are more likely to fall in line with their expectations.”

Secondly, parents should “establish policies early on, and be consistent in setting expectations and enforcing rules. Adolescents do feel that parents should have a say in decisions about drinking, and they maintain this deference to parental authority as long as they perceive the message to be legitimate; consistency is central to legitimacy.” Thirdly, “work with parents to monitor where kids are gathering and what they are doing. Being involved in the lives of adolescents is key to keeping them safe. Work in and with the community to promote dialogue about underage drinking and the creation of implementation of action steps to address it.” Lastly, “be aware of your state’s laws about providing alcohol to your own children, and never provide alcohol to someone else’s child.” The study concludes reporting that, “with open, respectful communication and explanations, parents can influence their children’s decisions well into adolescence and beyond.”